My name is Adam Harris, I am from County Wicklow in Ireland and when I was five years old I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome – a condition on the Autism Spectrum. 

Having Aspergers Syndrome is a bit like living in a world which isn’t built for you – you want to socialise with other children, but you don’t really know how, you find going to various places difficult because you can’t manage the noise or the smells or your surroundings. You are hyperactive and find it hard to concentrate on tasks and because everything seems so unfamiliar you are very anxious all the time. And so you need a routine and structure… but if that routine or plan changes you can become very upset and display challenging behaviour. 

I faced many of these challenges as a child and spent the first three years of my education in schools for people with Autism.

I was very lucky to benefit from this support at such a young age. I went on to attend mainstream school, with special support, and ultimately completed my final exams in schools without any special needs assistant. However by the time I was 16, I realised how fortunate I was but I was also very frustrated at the lack of public awareness around Autism in Ireland – I would often find people with Autism were patronised, or the emphasis was on what people could not do, rather than seeing all the strengths and abilities of the person.

I felt something needed to be done to give people with Autism, and their families, a voice at a national level. I wanted them to be able to use their voice to educate society to understand Autism and see it as a disABILITY.

Autism affects 1 in 100 people in Ireland. It is a big spectrum which affects people to varying degrees and in many different ways. For that reason, it is important that we don’t resort to stereotyping, but realise people with Autism are just that, people first. When identifying where people require support, we must see them as a person, not a label. 

50% of people with Autism are bullied at some point in their life, 80% are unemployed after school and there is a four times higher rate of self-harm in the community – this can only change if every person in society plays their part in including people with Autism.

Having Aspergers Syndrome is a bit like living in a world which isn’t built for you

AsIAm is working to educate the public, sector by sector on the condition, encouraging people to be more understanding, empathetic and empowering. We currently run an exciting new programme in Secondary Schools and later this year will launch an employer’s programme and a community-wide programme.

We have received a really great response from the public to date. I recently received a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland “Elevate” Award which provided us with some initial funding and support. We were also recently received by our President, who is interested in learning about our work and the challenges faced by those with Autism in Ireland.

We are particularly working to ensure that our website is a real resource for those with Autism in Ireland and that all people with the condition find it accessible and can play a part, with the support of family and professional supporters. We will soon have an interactive map of Autism services in Ireland and an online Questions and Answers system that will connect users to a trained responder who is best placed to answer their particular question.

We have a long way to go in building an Ireland, and indeed a world, where everyone with Autism can reach THEIR potential “AsTheyAre” but we continue to expand and improve our work with this goal in mind.

- Adam Harris is an alumni of Ashoka's ChangemakerXchange. Are you between 18 and 28 years old? Apply​ before the second of February to the next summit in Turkey held from the 13th to the 17th of May 2015.​

Every month, we are pairing up with Ashoka to feature the most inspiring young Millennials who are transforming the world for the better and leading the way for a new generation of Changemakers... watch this space!

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